Honor Your Father and Mother

Text: Luke 2:41-52
Date: Epiphany I
+ 1/7/07

      I suppose we could have gotten along quite well without hearing any details concerning the Christ Child’s formative years as he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” the obedient Son of Mary in the household of Joseph the Carpenter. Yet for some reason, in his close evaluation and orderly account, St. Luke was moved by the Holy Spirit to include this little vignette between the time of His mother’s purification rite in the temple 40 days after He was born and the appearance of John the Baptist “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” when Jesus was about 30 years old—the little incident of the 12-year-old Boy Jesus in the temple. For we have all experienced those seemingly long and mostly happy, carefree years of growing up as a child, mastering the fundamentals of walking and eating and playing, personal hygiene, then how to relate appropriately to others, playmates, parents, the adult world; learning about the world around us and, of course, being schooled “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” [Eph. 6:4]. But this little incident serves, once again, to reveal, to enlighten and to remind us of our Lord’s singular and unique Person, His two natures, fully human and, at the same time, fully divine. The twist of the text is that even Mary needed to be reminded.

      Many of us can sympathize with the distress and fear Mary and Joseph must have felt when they discovered that their Boy Jesus was missing on their return trip from the Jerusalem temple after the Passover that year. They must have retraced their steps of the “day’s journey” in half the time hurrying back to the Holy City. Searching for Him for a whole day and not finding Him only increased their fears. Then another day of searching coming up empty-handed. Maybe it was only out of desperation that, on the third day, they finally decided to go to the temple to seek divine help. And when they got there, there He was. I mean, God was there. But so was Jesus, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Would you have reacted any differently than to run over to the Boy, then and there, grab him and express your anxiety, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress”? It’s that strange combination of loving anger and relief over contemplated tragedy averted. Then, the first words recorded from the lips of the Savior, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Stranger still St. Luke writes, “they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” Nevertheless, after they returned to Nazareth “his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” One commentator says this detail “strongly suggests” that Mary herself was St. Luke’s source for this historical information!

      Herein is the reason for including this little story in the beginning of Luke’s Gospel: it is one more piece of evidence that Jesus is the Son of God and of the necessity of his being in the Jerusalem temple—His house; God’s house—where he will return as the Passover Lamb for the redemption of the world. Little would we expect that, especially after the miraculous announcements of the angel to Mary and to Joseph before His birth, and the amazing pronouncement of Simeon in the temple concerning this Child, that they would be the first (here) to stumble over the cross, that is, the word of His destiny which would come to pass two decades later! Jesus’ words were spoken to His Mother not as a rebellious twelve-year-old child but as her Lord and Savior and God; a “gentle” reminder that His Father had not been searching for him in great distress but was right here in His house all the while!

      Now besides revealed evidence of the Person of Jesus, from beginning to never-ending, as true man and also true God, this little text brings a question to mind and an important answer. The question: if Jesus is the perfect, sinless Son, fulfilling perfectly all of God’s Law, what about the Fourth Commandment—“You shall honor your father and mother”—and his seeming disobedience of staying behind in the temple? The fact that God is His Father and not Joseph does not completely excuse the seeming pain through which He put his mother. But what of His mother? When a married man becomes a priest or a pastor, he is thrust into the difficult situation of being both his wife’s husband and his wife’s pastor. More so in the case of Jesus. He is both Mary’s Son and Mary’s Lord. This would soon be demonstrated again when, at the wedding in Cana, He must speak to her as her Lord, saying, “Woman, what have you to do with me—my hour has not yet come.”

      “Why were you looking for me”? He asked. Well, obviously because she had the maternal and parental responsibility of his safety and nurture. The question, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” put her and everything into their proper perspective. Her fears and anxiety were more than allayed, though she did not presently totally understand. Again, at Cana she would understand the more and respond in faith, saying to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” As she related this old memory to the good Dr. Luke, this treasure of her heart had blossomed to full faith that her Son is indeed the Son of God, her Savior.

      Nevertheless, Luke tells us, after this “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” Here the Fourth Commandment is perfectly fulfilled. He was submissive, first and foremost, to God His true Father, and then also to His mother and His legal, earthly step-father. Martin Luther, in preaching on this text, goes on at some length to emphasize and encourage especially the children with regard to Jesus’ example. Children! It is very good for you to do as Jesus did, namely, when his mother or father told him to pick up the wood shavings under the carpenter’s bench, or to go and fetch a bucket of water, or, in our modern day terms, to clean up their room, or do their homework, or eat their vegetables, or say “thank you” to someone, go and do thou likewise. As the promise connected to the Fourth Commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you…” [Deut. 5:16 (ESV)]. And to all, this command applies regarding all earthly authorities, to “honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” The only caveat, of course, is when the clear Word and will of God should not be violated. Then, as St. Peter said, "We must obey God rather than men” [Acts 5:29 (ESV)].

            This, then, is the record of the human conception, birth, and obedient childhood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary; the Lord who has redeemed us lost and condemned people, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own possession and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.